Creating Healthy Soil is the Secret to Great Plants

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Cooperative Extension, with its helpful group of regional garden experts associated with universities across the county, believes that 80% of plant problems can be traced back to soil that “limits plant vigor”.  Repeat – 80%!

Think how much more fun gardening would be if simply improving the health of your soil made most plant disease, insect and overall health issues disappear!

 

Healthy soil is essential for all plants, shrubs, trees and lawns. If you really consider it, this makes sense. Soil is like the foundation of our gardens and yard. Without it, the rest of the structure is not stable. Most of us simply do not take time to consider this foundational part of our plants.  While soil may not be sexy, it can be a secret weapon in any garden.

Soil Nutrients

If gardeners do consider their soil health, they usually focus on nutrients; do my plants have enough “food”?  Garden fertilizers supply three primary chemicals needed for
strong growth – N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous) and K (potassium). In addition, plants need “vitamins”, trace elements that are required in small quantities to support biological processes. These processes include photosynthesis (creating food), osmosis and active transport (moving water and nutrients through the plant), and cell respiration (gas exchange).  Bill's Perfect Soil Boost provides a rich source of NPK. Spray-N-Grow Micronutrient Complex was developed to supply these vitamins, since most plants can’t get it from the soil.

Soil Moisture

Whether derived from rain, an irrigation system, or melted winter snows, water is needed by all plants. The amount of moisture required varies widely based on type of plant, growth cycle (active growth vs. dormancy), plant size, season (heat of summer vs. cool fall weather), and other factors. Healthy soil delivers sufficient water for plant growth while leaving air pocket space between soil particles for oxygen.

 

Soil Oxygen

Plant roots need oxygen. This is the reason soil compaction and over-watering are so detrimental. Both force gases out of the spaces between soil particles and reduce the oxygen available to roots.  Additives like ground coconut husks create spaces for oxygen between soil particles. This slightly springy material helps keep soil from compacting, creating spaces that are vital for healthy soil. You can check out Gro-Brics and Lava Sand as great options for creating space in the soil. 

 

Physical Support

For plants to grow upright, they must anchor solidly into the soil. Roots need to be able to expand through tight or rocky ground and find purchase in sandy, windblown soils like those found on beaches. Healthy soils provide good “tilth” or texture; not too loose or so dense that roots cannot penetrate. 

Beneficial Soil Organisms

Healthy soil includes billions of tiny micro-organisms, including bacteria, protozoa, fungi and nematodes. The activities of these minuscule critters help break down organic matter, improve soil structure, and filter and degrade pollutants in the soil. Arthropods, like mites and small spiders, and earthworms also create beneficial air pockets in the soil and help move nutrients around near the root zone. These living organisms, collectively known as “the soil food web”, are essential for the maintenance of healthy soil.  Soil Optimizer is an easy and effective option to build microbes in soil. 

 

Creating Space

The ideal ratio for soil particles, water and oxygen in soil is 50/25/25. This means that in good healthy soil half of the space is made up of soil particles, a quarter is taken up by water and the last quarter is occupied by oxygen.  Close your eyes and envision this ratio. That is a huge amount of room consumed by something other than what we tend to focus on – the soil particles.

 

Now What?

Keep that picture in mind. Consider these little incremental actions you can take to improve your soil health for broad, noticeably better results:  

  • Add steppingstones or create rows to avoid walking on, and compacting, the soil where roots grow.  

  • Loosen the soil by aerating or tilling, if needed. Consider Aerify for a no till option.

  • Add beneficial microbes. We love the Soil Optimizer at Spray-N-Grow.

  • Incorporate materials that help prevent compaction, like coconut fiber. 

  • Water carefully to avoid sogginess or drought.  

  • Add organic compost to feed microbes and earthworms. 

  • Avoid chemicals that harm earthworms.  

  • Refrain from using plastic sheeting under mulch, as it limits oxygen in the soil.

 

Lots of small actions add up to significantly healthier soil - the foundation for gardens, flower beds and lawns that practically takes care of themselves and looks great in the process.

 

Your Secret to Keep or Share

While it does not happen overnight, you have the power to change your soil for the better.  Much better. Then when neighbors ask for your secret to a great-looking landscape, you can honestly say, “Well, actually, I don’t do much.  A little organic fertilizer. . . composted kitchen scraps . . . try not to overwater”.  How much you tell is up to you.

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